Secret Liaisons: A SotB story

I’m writing a story for an anthology on Kickstarter right now, called SISTERHOOD OF THE BLADE: a set of Three Musketeers-era stories that adds three awesome women to the intrigues and adventure of 17th century France.

sotb-cover

Sisterhood of the Blade (Now on Kickstarter!)

 

How best to advertise it, you ask, other than just tell you that awesome premise?

Here’s the first part of my story for the anthology!

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Secret Liaisons

By Erik Scott de Bie

Padgett was drunk.

Specifically, she was the kind of ill-mannered drunk that gave rise to the sort of ill-conceived words, ill-tempered actions, and ill-timed observations that quickly exacerbated delicate situations.

She knew this about herself due to experience—she’d grown up around soldiers, after all—and because all of those ill-fated things had befallen her over the last hour. Hence her exile from Salon Delorme and into the alley, there to cool off and ponder the folly of her course.

Mon dieu,” Padgett said under her breath, the words slurred into some intoxicated monstrosity that was anything but godly. “Whatever came over you, you silly little girl?”

“Eh,” said a voice near at hand. She saw a flushed, elderly man dressed in filthy rags near the back entrance to the Salon. She’d not noticed the beggar at first, but she certainly saw him now, including the half-empty bottle of dark red wine he extended in her direction. “Mademoiselle, si vous plais.

Merci beacoup.” She accepted the wine with a little nod. The wine was thin and tart and did little to relieve the churning frustration in her gut. Padgett cursed herself again. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

To his credit, the beggar declined to address his newfound companion’s inward deprecation and instead took back his bottle without a word. They shared a companionable silence for a moment, while Padgett mourned her misfortunes with a series of quiet lamentations and castigations. After another swig, the beggar handed her the wine with a gesture that made it clear she needed it more than he did.

This, Padgett swore, was the last time she would drink quite so heavily when—

The back door of the Salon flew open with such violence it struck Padgett painfully in the shoulder and knocked her staggering into a puddle. She spilled most of the wine, partly on herself.

As she got her bearings, down on hands and knees, Padgett watched as a group of men flooded out of the doors and hurried past her down the alley. There were six of them, all clad in obscuring cloaks and feathered hats against the mild Paris rain. Two at the front led a third, who was bent over, head down, wrapped head to toe in cloth to obscure his face, while three took up the rear. Men of arms and action, Padgett realized: one passed close enough for the hard leather scabbard of his sword to brush her leg.

Padgett couldn’t say why she shouted after them. Perhaps it was wounded pride—though falling in the puddle couldn’t be worse than what had come to pass in the Salon—or perhaps simple frustration. Perhaps she was itching for a fight. Regardless, she called after them angrily.

“Ay!” she said. “Ay, I see you! Don’t think I didn’t!”

Padgett didn’t expect her shout to work, but the group of cloaked men abruptly halted and exchanged looks and quiet words. The two escorting the stumbling, drunken man between them continued on their way, while the other three turned back toward Padgett, their expressions hard. She got a better look at them now: poorly shaven faces, low-class clothes, but each of them armed, hands on the pommels of their rapiers. The way they moved bespoke bladework training, and it set her immediately on her guard.

No simple patrons, these. And outnumbering her. And she without her sword.

Padgett spread her hands. “Now now, no quarrel, si vous plais,” she said. “Nothing meant by it, monsieur et al.”

The lead man stopped and looked down his nose at her. “What is that, a woman?”

The others snickered. Padgett realized she’d left her coat hanging open to her well-muscled belly, and she fumbled it closed with a scowl. Her fiery red hair had pulled loose from its bun, too, from the locks hanging in front of her face. The good lord had seen fit to endow her with an annoying set of features that tended to complicate things. She’d never really understood why breasts made so many men take her less seriously. Their problem—not hers.

“I shall forgive your indiscrete tone this once,” Padgett said. “You have the honor to address Padgett of the Sisterhood. I’d stand down, monsieur, were I in your boots.”

Her implied threat fell on ears hardened of hearing by many years of masculine bravado, no doubt. “Pagette?” the leader asked. “Little servant girl, non? What do you serve?”

“Padgett,” she corrected. Like as not, the nuance was lost on these knaves. “Last chance. Stand away.”

The leader barked in mirth. He had a braying sort of laugh, like something between a hyena and a mule. Padgett didn’t like it one bit. Her mind was running through how to put all three on the ground.

“Henri,” said a second of the men. “Stop playing with the strumpet and let’s have done.”

Bless him, the beggar got up in some misguided chivalrous effort to protect her. “Non—”

The third knave drew and ran the old man through in one smooth motion, silencing his protest.

Padgett uttered a strangled protest. The blow had fallen so suddenly it caught her by surprise, even as she had assessed their skill and training already. It was the drunkenness that had slowed her, and she tasted bile at her oversight. Damn.

Not again.

She started shrieking her head off, startling all three of them.

The lead knave opened his mouth, no doubt to address her obvious hysteria, and Padgett grasped his sword even as she smashed the mostly empty wine bottle across his face so hard it splintered the dusky glass. She’d aimed for his temple, but fell short and instead split open his cheek in a shower of blood and spit. He fell aside, gurgling a moan, and she let his momentum pull his sword from its scabbard and into her hand. She discarded the remains of the wine bottle and raised the sword to face the other two, mind racing.

The sudden fury of her assault gave one of the knaves pause, and so he was half a breath behind his companion in reacting. Padgett stepped to the side, closer to the man rushing toward her. He was the one who had killed the beggar, so it didn’t surprise her that he was fast on the assault. Stronger than her. Faster. Superior reach and armament: rapier and poniard, good for parrying.

Still screaming, Padgett waited until just the right moment, then fell low to the pavement and set her borrowed sword in a long stop thrust. She landed with unexpected grace, considering her level of drunkenness, and her attacker was too close in his overconfidence to pull aside. The sword sank into his belly, and he blinked down at it, startled. Falling suddenly silent, Padgett seized the opportunity to push his sword out of the way and shove him away with one booted foot. He slid off her sword to lie wailing and groaning on the cobblestones as she faced the third of the knaves with sword at the ready.

“Remember,” she said to the third man, slightly hoarse from all the screaming. “I gave you a chance.”

It was then that the man with the mocking laugh tackled her quite unceremoniously against the wall across the alley from the salon. The rapier clattered from her fingers and she fought to keep his hands from her throat. She’d deprived him of his arms, but his big hands were quite sufficient as they pummeled her sides and clipped her head. She dodged only by chance and accident, then turned her head when he drooled blood all over her face. She couldn’t bring the sword to bear. The last knave on his feet was stalking toward them, sword singing into his hand.

“Cut me, will you?” the leader asked, his voice garbled through gore and missing teeth. “You hellion!”

Dimly, as his hands shoved through her toward her throat, Padgett saw the door of the salon opening.

“Hellion? Moi? Non.” She nodded over his shoulder. “That’s her.”

Adina smashed the basket hilt of her cutlass across the side of the armed man’s head, sending him staggering. He flailed with his sword, but she stepped in with brutal efficiency, knocked aside his clumsy defenses, and raked it in a rising slash across his chest and the side of his throat. Blood splashed and he tumbled away from her, choking and dying.

Padgett waited half a breath until the man with the torn face looked away, then smashed her knee hard into his midsection. He fell back, gasping for breath, and she climbed awkwardly to her feet. Her uniform was a muddy, rumpled mess, but she gave it a brief brushing down.

“Took your time, non?” Padgett asked.

Adina shrugged and offered one of her big, infectious smiles. “Scream louder next time,” she said in her warm West Indies accent. “Don’t think they heard you in Versailles.”

Padgett bristled. “I’ll make you scream.”

Adina quirked an eyebrow, and Padgett blushed furiously. Not what she meant. How did she do that? Pirates.

The leader with the torn face scrambled to his feet, seized the fallen rapier, and stumbled down the alley toward rue de la Ferronnerie. Padgett and Adina shared a nod. The two women turned as one toward the mouth of the alley to pursue.

They needn’t have troubled themselves.

A third woman stepped out into the mouth of the alley, and her appearance stopped the fleeing man as surely as a blast of horns. Indeed, the faint cries and laughter of nearby buildings and even the patter of rain seemed to grow quiet as she absorbed all sound into herself. She wore her pitch-dark hair after the fashion of Parisian noblewomen, but there the resemblance ended. She had a distinctive appearance: chiseled cheekbones, severe lips, and dark eyes that were the envy of the city. Under her fur shawl, her clothes were of an eastern style, embroidered with beautiful golden and silver designs, and even though the hem trailed around her slipper-shod feet it never seemed to attract the city’s grime. She bore a gracefully curved sword in a beautiful black lacquer scabbard, the wrapped handle of which she laid graceful fingers upon.

She needed no words to stop the man—only one steely dark glance. He stood trembling, reclaimed rapier shaking in his fist.

“Yield,” said Madame Aimi Marlette in her sweet, musical voice. “And you shall be shown mercy.”

Before he had the opportunity to respond, Adina smashed the back of his head with the pommel of her sword, and he collapsed senseless to the ground.

Aimi looked up at them with distaste. “He would have surrendered,” she said.

Adina shrugged. “Now we’ll never know.”

“At least we didn’t kill all of them,” Padgett said.

“You say that like it’s a good thing.” Adina eyed the fallen man with a predatory gleam in her eye.

Padgett stepped between her and the prisoner. “The prize is safe in hand, milady?” she asked Aimi.

Aimi nodded. She was a master at hiding her emotions, but Padgett caught a hint of distaste in her expression before her face resumed its usual placidity.

“Well then.” Padgett nudged the groaning man with her foot. “Time to investigate, non?”

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Read the rest in the forthcoming SISTERHOOD OF THE BLADE anthology (on Kickstarter now)!

 

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The Demons that Haunt Us

Question from a reader: Lady Vengeance is always fighting demons, but she never kills them–just sends them away, usually with promises to return and avenge themselves. 

Why do the demons always get away?

Mechanically:

1) Because demons are really hard to banish, much less actually kill. All but impossible, really.

But really:

2) The demons are a metaphor for Lady V’s past traumas, continually coming back to haunt her. At best, we can push our pain and mistakes and regret away for a while, but they’re always there–always coming back to haunt us. 

Baggage we can’t leave behind.

Check out the story in question: “Baggage,” in the https://www.amazon.com/Shadowed-Souls-Jim-Butcher/dp/0451474996